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Commonwealth Games 2018: From turning down a modelling career to India's highest-ranked paddler meet Manika Batra

Manika Batra has had a stellar run-up to the 2018 CWG, where she is one of India's brightest medal prospects in table tennis.

Somesh Chandran
29 Mar 2018, 09:32 IST
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Manika in action

Twenty-four months later, the lights could not have been any more brighter. Back in 2016, India's table-tennis wonder-kid, Manika Batra rued the fact that the press in her own country are reluctant to cover the sport,

"Lack of media coverage is one main issue which we face. Even after performing well, people focus more on how India is performing in cricket," she told Sportskeeda in 2016.

Then 20-years-old, Manika was ranked 157 in the world. In fact, back in 2014, she was ranked as low as 190.

Four years and one Commonwealth Games (2014- Glasgow) later, where she managed to reach the quarter-finals, Manika is currently the highest ranked Indian female paddler in the world. Currently ranked 66th as per the ITTF, she is the second best player in India as of January 2018.

On Wednesday, she was present at the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) players draft in Mumbai. She was picked up by Dabang Smashers - the same organization that owns Pro Kabaddi outfit, Dabang Delhi.

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"UTT has been really good for us because we play with international players. I have beaten them as well, I was always confident that I could beat them," she said.

This time though, there were no complains about the absence of the media. We made our presence felt in numbers. The 22-year-old looked at ease and exuded confidence as she gears up for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

"I have prepared very well, since the last three months we've been out for tournaments and practice camps. Our team is ready for the games," she told Sportskeeda. Standing 6 feet tall, Manika is an imposing figure but a woman of very few words.

Having toured numerous countries, with several competitive matches under her belt, Batra is no doubt looking to further her top 8 finish from the previous CWG. Her recent one-month long stint in Portugal was followed by three back to back tournaments in Qatar, Poland, and Germany.

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It's safe to say that, this bunch of Indian paddlers has been given the best possible exposure ahead of the crucial tournament, where they are expected to bag a silver medal at the minimum. Maneka has made the most of her opportunities.

On March 7, 2018, she beat World No. 24 Zhang Mo, at the ITTF World Tour Platinum Qatar Open. Heads turned but she isn't surprised by her form one bit - "I am happy, ready to play and win a medal at the Commonwealth Games," she says.

But Maneka is well aware of the fine line between confidence and excess. Is a gold medal a realistic objective? Before pondering for a few seconds she replies, "We will give our best to win a gold medal. Singapore is a really tough opponent, it will be hard against them," she explains.

Maneka's come up has been nothing short of meteoric. As a lanky teenager, she turned down several modelling opportunities in order to focus on table tennis. It wasn't smooth sailing though, certain decisions could have backfired, thankfully they didn't.

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At the age of 16, she rejected the chance to train at the elite Peter Karlsson academy in Sweden. Maneka was offered a full scholarship but she decided to stay put in India. Her persistence eventually paid off.

Currently, under the tutelage of Massimo Costantini, Batra accepts the fact that Indian table tennis players are finally focusing on being fit more than ever.

Massimo was India's Head Coach from 2009-2010 where he guided the country to five medals (1 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze) at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

"We have different fitness trainers and are focusing more on the fitness aspect, even our Indian coach(Soumyadeep Roy) and Massimo," she states. With six days left for the Commonwealth Games 2018 to begin, Maneka is raring to go and adamant about bagging the gold, come what may.




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